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On the evening of July 20th, 1969,
Neil Armstrong became the first human being to set foot on the moon.
That's one small step for man...
..one giant leap for mankind.
The whole of humanity seemed to hold its breath as
the same ghostly images danced across screens the world over.
The pressure was intense,
but Armstrong appeared to revel in the experience.
No-one had ever left earth so completely,
and it's been said that no-one ever saw it more clearly
than he did then.
MUSIC: "Light My Fire" by The Doors
When Neil Armstrong returned from his surreal adventure,
he was the most famous man on earth.
But now something strange happened.
With the world craving his attention, he simply disappeared,
declining interviews and avoiding the public,
finally shunning autographs too.
40 years on, the reclusive Armstrong remains one of our greatest heroes,
but our most reluctant celebrity.
For many like me, he is the ultimate enigma.
I'm Andrew Smith.
Four years ago, I wrote a book about the Apollo moon walkers.
Neil Armstrong was the only one who always refused to be interviewed.
This film is my attempt to understand why.
I'm going to the key places in Armstrong's life to meet his friends
and former colleagues and chat with Apollo astronauts.
'My aim is to find out who he is,
'and what it's really like being Neil Armstrong.'
The starting point in my journey is the mid western state of Ohio.
I'm headed towards Neil Armstrong's hometown to
find out what his childhood can tell me about the mysterious man
who walked on the moon.
100 miles north of Cincinnati, I find the small town of Wapakoneta
where Armstrong was born in 1930 of German and Scots stock.
His family moved a lot, but Wapa claims him for its own.
I'm surprised how many old schoolmates and friends
are still here,
like Kathryn Metz, who's run the family model shop for so many years,
the townsfolk call her "Mom".
This is brilliant, this is all the stuff,
I did all these models when I was a kid.
Look, old World War II stuff.
-Is Mom around?
Mom, can I call you Mom?
-You used to hang around with Neil Armstrong's sister.
His sister, June, uh-huh.
Yeah, I graduated with her.
Right, so you were around him quite a lot.
Yeah, maybe once
or twice a week and that would be about it, yeah.
But you really didn't get to visit with him a whole lot.
It would have been "Hi, how are you? How's school?" Off he'd go, you know.
He's not one for just stand around and talk.
So he was sort of preoccupied
with his aeroplanes and all that kind of stuff.
Right, he loved flying.
Now if you'd talk on aeroplanes, or be in an aeroplane,
that'd be a different story.
You probably wouldn't be able to get rid of him then.
-Was he shy?
-He was just a quiet person.
I don't think he was, you know, backward that wouldn't talk,
it was just...
You have to know his mom and dad - they were very kind,
very supportive of what their kids were in,
and they weren't one to always be in the limelight neither.
And this is, he's just common, you know, he doesn't want
to be out there where everybody has to,
you know, pay attention to him.
He's not for that.
Now if they had an aeroplane and want him to go fly it
that might be a different thing.
I'm amused to hear Armstrong being described as "common".
Of course, Mom really just means "normal" or "average",
words which couldn't seem
more incongruous, in light of his subsequent life and achievements.
I wish I could be so average.
I'm not sure I can quite bring myself to say
how many years it's been since I made one of these.
Many, many, many, many.
It's funny because they just look like, you know,
fairly trivial toys, which they are.
I used to love flying these as a boy and I expect Neil Armstrong did too.
In his time, flight must have seemed the most glamorous thing on earth.
But you do learn about how
things fly and the laws of aerodynamics and that sort of stuff,
because the wings, you'll see, are not straight,
they're bent, off centre.
I think Neil might have been better at this than me.
He'd make short work of this.
There we go, got it!
OK, test flight.
3, 2, 1.
Oh no! All that time spent doing that as a kid, wasted!
My next encounter with Neil Armstrong's past
is at the home of one of his closest childhood friends.
'"Kotcho" Solacoff is now a retired doctor,
'but he remembers the passion Armstrong had
'for all types of planes.'
When he was in school,
he built lots of model aeroplanes
and would fly them outside the window, sometimes
catch them on fire when he's done with it and see it fly out and crash.
But it was all by the rubber band.
You know, he didn't have very much money at that time,
and he was constantly building model aeroplanes.
In 1969, Neil invited Kotcho to the launch of Apollo 11.
From the VIP stands,
he shot his own Super 8 footage of his friend taking off for the moon.
His vantage point allowed him to record a rare image
of the Saturn V rocket punching a hole through the sky.
What was it like watching
a boyhood friend became the first man on the moon?
Oh, oh my gosh! Oh, I was sitting right in that room
with a black and white television, and just yelling.
And when he sat down there and said "The Eagle has landed,"
I almost was in tears, you know.
That was just overjoyous.
Oh, I stayed up all night.
I know that some of the astronauts get frustrated with being asked,
"So, what was it like on the moon?"
You, presumably, have asked Neil that at some point,
what was it like? What did he tell you when you asked?
Well, knowing Neil, very few words.
He says, "It was fun and it was exhilarating."
And that's all he would tell me.
He says, "very enjoyable",
but he wouldn't actually go into any more detail than that.
But that's typical of Neil. That's about what I would expect him to say.
One of the things that fascinates me most about Neil Armstrong
is that he has this reputation for being
this very kind of reticent, private...
Some people think it's aloofness, we're hearing it's not,
but he's also capable of great poetry actually at times.
There's the first words,
which are amongst the most famous words, you know, ever spoken.
Has he ever talked about where he got those words from,
the first words, "One small step..."?
Well, yeah, he did tell me, but then he's said other stuff too,
so I don't know which one is true.
Cos I ask him about it and he was... He did say he did not think about it
until he was on his way to the moon. He did not have that ahead.
And we used to play, when we were younger...
Did you ever play, Mother May I?
You know, you'd take one step, "Mother may I?" "Yes, you may,"
or "No, you may not," or you can take a giant step.
-And that kind of came to his mind, and he thought,
"Gee, you know, I could say 'a giant step', 'small step'",
you know, and kind of put those two together.
And it came from that game that we used to play as little kids.
So he was the quintessential schoolboy nerd?
How to make sense of that!
Only after leaving Kotcho does it occur to me that Armstrong was
weaned on the exploits of aviation pioneers and World War II pilots.
To him, they must have been what rock stars would one day be
to my generation.
Of course he wanted to fly.
He earned a pilot's licence whilst still in high school
and won a navy scholarship to Purdue University.
He chose to study one of the buzz subjects of the era,
as glamorous as advertising at the time.
His naval commitment led to Armstrong flying 78 missions
during the Korean war in one of the first jet fighters,
the Grumman F9F Panther.
After finishing his degree in 1955,
he became a test pilot in California.
MUSIC: "Hound Dog" by Leiber & Stoller
2,000 miles and a seeming world away from Ohio,
I'm on State Highway 14, a couple of hours outside Los Angeles
at the edge of the Mojave Desert.
This is the home of Edwards Air Force Base, a place that's witnessed
more advances in flight than anywhere else on earth.
Today, unmanned drones and laser armed jets are flight tested here.
But the pilots and engineers of the late 1940s and 50s were the
first to break the sound barrier, and with the X-15 hypersonic plane,
they even reached the edge of space.
After being dropped by a B52 bomber,
the X-15 could reach six times the speed of sound.
It tested the physical effects of such high speeds on pilots
and, at the time, was as close to space flight as you could get.
Armstrong was one of the chosen few to fly the plane.
'The air force's publicity department has arranged for me
'to meet Johnny Armstrong.
'He's not related to Neil, but worked with him in the 1950s.'
Looking at everything that's involved with this,
it's almost like a space flight.
So for Neil it would have been a stepping stone.
You're right, we had, you know,
a de-briefing, two de-briefings after each flight.
One was, OK, everybody that was involved in the flight
comes and sits down and talks about how it all went,
from the chase pilots, B52, everybody would gather,
pat themselves on the back, have a good time, and talk about the flight.
And then the engineers would take the pilots in a separate,
smaller group meeting, and talk
about the real technical aspects of what they were trying to accomplish.
You worked directly with Armstrong.
I did. I remember when he was a training to fly the X-15 number 3,
which was the aeroplane he flew most, the number 3 aeroplane,
and he was a very well disciplined,
more than disciplined, he was one of the more technical
test pilots we had - the paying attention to detail
of the technical operation of that particular control system.
There seemed to be a sort of a change in the type of
pilots who were involved
from the guys who could really push a plane
and they were all about flying,
to these people who could obviously fly brilliantly,
but were also engineers, and could analyse.
They were much more analytical.
Well, that's kind of the way you're describing Armstrong.
He brought his engineering talents to bear on it quite a bit
in developing that flight control system for the number 3 aeroplane.
I can imagine how Neil Armstrong's engineering side must have loved
developing and flying futuristic planes like the X-15.
But what was he like away from the cockpit?
They celebrated after flights, OK.
They went to the local bars, and had fellowship there too.
Do you remember Armstrong taking part in that?
No, you know, I really don't.
Neil struck me as being a more reserved pilot and less outgoing
than the other X-15 pilots that we routinely worked with.
Everyone I meet describes Armstrong as quiet and reserved,
something of a conformist,
to the extent that I'm starting to wonder if they're protecting him.
But his decision to locate himself and his new wife, Janet,
up in the hills, 50 miles from base,
suggests a more maverick spirit than I'd have guessed in the beginning.
He would have driven along this road frequently.
Somewhere hidden here is Juniper Hills, which is the first town that
Jan and Neil Armstrong settled in after they got married, 1955.
It's away from the base.
You've got to admire his choice though.
It's lovely here - much, much nicer than further down in the valley.
This is it.
There's a car in the drive too. I wonder if that's the estate agent's.
I knew it was for sale but apparently it's a foreclosure,
so the bank owns it,
which means that I can't get permission to go on.
Amazingly, the people here who are looking at it,
these people are looking
to buy the house, don't know that it was Neil Armstrong's house.
No-one told them.
And I can't believe any estate agent anywhere in the
world would let that one pass, but it seems to have happened.
Hi. Can I ask you something?
-Did you know that this used to be Neil Armstrong's house?
-The estate agent didn't tell you?
I don't think anybody knows. How did you guys find out?
The local people do,
so I can't believe the estate agent didn't tell you.
I guess she doesn't know or they don't consider it a selling point.
You'd think they would, but it's fallen into complete disrepair, so...
Yeah, it's a foreclosure, right?
-Yes, it's unliveable right now.
Yeah, cos there's a hole in the water tank
and there's no electricity hooked up to the mains.
Thanks a lot, take care.
Just as I'm contemplating the isolation of this place, some locals
arrive who remember what it was like when the Armstrongs were here.
The Armstrongs didn't have any electricity.
No water, apparently, as well.
They hauled water in, in the beginning.
So that must have been an inconvenient place to live.
It's very lovely up here, but...
Well, it was either up here or 40 miles to the north
in the middle of that godawful desert which his wife did not like.
Oh, OK, do you know that?
Is that the story about why they ended up here.
She didn't care for the desert.
-Ah, cos I had wondered that.
-He didn't either, for that matter.
I'd wondered that,
because it must get very hot down there in the valley.
It generally stays about 10 to 15 degrees cooler up here.
Two of the Armstrongs' three children
were born during his time here.
As a test pilot, there was nothing to stop him from living a quiet life
with his young family.
I wonder if he realised that his decision to become an astronaut
would change that forever.
NASA's first astronauts, the Mercury Seven, flew in small capsules on top
of rockets which were actually designed as military missiles.
Men like John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth,
became instant heroes across the country.
They were paraded through towns and given keys to cities.
Becoming an astronaut propelled you to the top of the celebrity A-list.
It was something Neil Armstrong would have to deal with.
MUSIC: "San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)"
by J Phillips
300 miles north of Edwards, I'm heading along Highway 1
to meet the Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickart.
I've heard he's an interesting man who speaks his mind,
and I hope he'll tell me what life is like as a famous astronaut.
-It's really nice to meet you.
-I know you're really busy, thanks for making the time for us.
This is one of my wife's favourites.
Oh, that's your expenses vouchers.
This, there are about three or four where my wife has given me these
on the anniversary of my flight.
And this is one of the first ones.
So this was,
you know, a picture of the night before the launch,
and a picture of the splashdown on the other side.
But this is the travel voucher.
Here it is, "Houston, Texas, Cocoa Beach, Florida, Earth Orbit,
USS Guadalcanal," ie, the Pacific Ocean and return to Houston!
All for 143.50.
Basically it says that the government quarters and meals were furnished,
and therefore, you know, that was deducted from my per diem.
Rusty's flight began on top of a Saturn V rocket just four months
before a sister Saturn took Armstrong all the way to the moon.
I can't help but ask Rusty what take-off was like.
The lift-off was really interesting.
Of course, you're so busy though thinking ahead.
For the first 10 seconds,
you have all of these different launch abort modes.
So you're pretty
within ten seconds of lift-off, the sound drops right down to
the point where you really can't hear the engines any more.
The motion is most intense right at first. It's not acceleration.
You hardly get off the ground,
you don't feel any acceleration vertically.
But the spacecraft is wiggling on the back end.
I mean, it's the old trick of holding the broom on your hand, you know.
The broom, the head of the broom isn't moving around,
but you're moving the bottom around to keep it.
Because the engines are swivelling.
The engines are swivelling back and forth to keep that thing vertical.
But again, within a few seconds, that goes away as well,
and from 10 seconds on, now you're just feeling
the gradual build-up of vertical acceleration as you're going up.
And it's quiet, and it's quite smooth.
Until cut-off of the first stage,
it's just this sort of steady increase of acceleration
as you're going up.
One of the frustrations that people have with Neil Armstrong,
for instance, is that he won't talk about what it meant to him.
Do you think that's because it meant less?
-Or it meant... No?
Neil is a very private person.
I mean, he's a wonderful guy and he has a terrific sense of humour.
But Neil Armstrong and John Glenn - you're dealing with firsts.
And Neil being the first man on the moon,
he had to go into a hermit-like life
in order to survive.
I mean, the demand of the public for
someone in a position of that kind is so extreme, you just have no idea.
Describe it for me.
Because you must have tasted this to a degree,
because you tell people you're an astronaut...
Yeah, but that's it. See, I tasted it.
It wasn't foie gras stuck in my, and ground down into me. I mean,
if you're someone like Neil, the first man on the moon,
or John Glenn, first person in space...
And even, see John - John was just the first American.
You know, you have to protect yourself.
You're so in demand.
I mean, I remember when I first came into the programme,
and you would go out to a restaurant.
Well, there was no way that those first seven guys,
the original seven, could be in a restaurant
without having everybody in the restaurant
come over and asking for an autograph
or wrapping their arms around them and getting a picture.
And, you know, people are calling them the wrong names.
It's just... It was sickening.
Understandable, perfectly understandable,
because that person asking for your autograph,
it's the first time they've ever asked for an autograph
from an astronaut. It's your 10,000th time
and you're trying to eat your soup while it's still warm.
You can't do that.
It's... It is unbelievably intrusive.
So you know, you're right, I got a taste of it,
but not the full dose, thank heaven.
Would you trade places with Neil Armstrong?
I'd love to trade places with Neil Armstrong
in terms of the experience,
but not in terms of the post-flight experience.
Not at all, no.
If you could only get them together, would you consider it?
No, I would not.
Really, seriously, even if it meant going to the moon, you wouldn't?
Why? I had my 15 minutes.
I'm doing so many things that are absolutely fascinating to me.
I don't need that.
You know, I have to be honest with you. I'm talking with you now,
-I'm talking with this audience now about this experience.
I hate it.
I mean, it's OK, you're good, we're having a good conversation.
Thank you very much.
OK, seriously. I avoid this like the plague.
Been there, done that, had the T-shirt.
I'm done with it, that's history.
Unfortunately, I have to tell the story again and again.
And when you've told a story a thousand times, you're sick of it.
You don't even know any more whether you're making things up or not.
You're trying not to, but after a while you don't quite know.
And so, you know, you talk to Walt Cunningham, or Neil, or Buzz,
or Mike Collins, or somebody,
and we'll all talk about exactly the same event,
and we'll all talk about it differently.
We didn't necessarily experience it differently,
but over years it starts to diverge, you don't know.
Rusty's description of the trials of space fame set me to thinking.
In the run up to my journey,
I'd considered trying to get in touch with Armstrong again.
But understanding his perspective a little better now, I'm not so sure.
After 40 years, it must be nearly impossible
to say something new about walking on the moon.
I feel torn between a desire to find out more
and my reluctance to become just another intrusion into his life.
I'm not sure whether to contact him or just leave him alone.
September 16th, 1962.
It's announced that Neil Armstrong has been selected
as one of a second group of astronauts.
Amid great excitement, the press dubs them 'The New Nine.'
ARCHIVE: '...Neil Armstrong, 32, NASA test pilot on the X-15 rocket plane.
'Major Frank Borman of the Air Force, 34...'
The astronauts are moved to NASA's new mission control
and training centre in Houston, Texas.
Most of the astronauts are still active military pilots,
so their pay is only slightly more than a school teacher's.
But life as an astronaut does have its perks.
MUSIC: "Born To Be Wild" by Mars Bonfire
# Get your motor runnin' Head out on the highway
# Lookin' for adventure And whatever comes our way... #
This car is a 1965 Corvette Stingray
like a lot of the astronauts drove, in fact.
I've never driven one of these before and I'm just really enjoying
myself, trying not to look too smug, and, I suspect, failing miserably.
These things are so beautiful, and space age too, the styling of it.
It's one of the most beautiful cars I've ever seen
and certainly the most beautiful car I've ever driven.
These streets are a sub-division of Houston
which is just a stone's throw from NASA.
It's where most of the astronauts and their families lived,
in very close quarters...
..and you get a real sense of what it must have felt like
to have been them at that time.
They'd been flying their jet fighters
and then working in the lunar lander simulators over the
road at NASA, and then driving home in one of these,
in a, you know, fairly modest middle class district.
But all the same, how much more on top of the world could you get?
Not very, I think.
But this high-octane lifestyle came with serious risks.
Just 14 months before the launch of Apollo 11, Armstrong was polishing
his lunar landing skills in the lunar landing training vehicle.
The LLTV was designed to mimic the approach and feel
of landing on the moon.
A pair of rockets reduced the effective weight of the craft
to simulate the moon's reduced gravity,
but with no wings, the craft couldn't glide back to earth
if anything went wrong.
Astronauts called it the flying bedstead.
Management didn't like it.
It scared them.
But on this day, 100 feet from the ground,
a thruster leak left Armstrong with no control.
With a split second to spare,
he fired his ejection seat and narrowly saved his life.
Within hours, an apparently unfazed Armstrong
would be back in the office at work.
Perhaps his calm nature made him an ideal candidate
to land a spacecraft on the moon.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
In July 1969, the former boy scout who loved building model planes
found himself plunging towards the lunar surface
at the controls of the Eagle lander.
As the world listened in, few could know
that Armstrong and his partner Buzz Aldrin were in trouble.
Don Willis, an Apollo controller at the time,
tells me about the unfolding drama.
The position we had there
was basically to drive all of the displays that the flight
controllers, the ones you see on TV in the control room itself...
All those maps and all those displays and everything were driven by a huge
bank of computers which were located one floor below the control room.
A standard PC today would probably have better speed
and about the same capacity as one of those IBM 360/75s.
The first warning occurred at an altitude of 2,000 feet
when the crew was alerted to an overload alarm
of the onboard computer known as a 1202.
There were some overload alarms where the computer is not able to complete
its full range of processing.
It's not good to have alarms,
because you're never quite sure what's not getting done.
Because Armstrong, when he was asking "What is the 1202?",
his voice was terse at that point.
-And he asked a number of times,
and his heart rate apparently went up to 150 BPM.
-Bravo 2, we have a reading on the 1202 programme alarm.
-We're "go" on that, flight.
-Roger, we got you.
We're "go" on that alarm.
The people who wrote the software and who were actually operating it
knew what a 1202 was, and knew that it was
not life threatening, not mission threatening.
-Has it converged?
-OK, all flight controllers,
-go now go for landing. Retro.
Capcom, we're "go" for landing.
Eagle, Houston, you are "go" for landing, over.
DON WILLIS: And as they started the descent burn,
the landmarks on the way down were
not quite where the astronauts thought they should be.
And as they got down very, very low, the low fuel alarm light came on,
meaning that they had
just a small amount of fuel left, like 60 seconds or something.
-60 seconds. Lights on.
The mission rules had said if you get this low, you should abort,
but he was basically over-riding that, and said,
"No, I can get this, I can get it down.
"We can achieve the mission."
When he saw the crater,
realised he had to get over on to the other side to really land.
-Forward, just into the right a little.
-Down a half.
Picking up some dust.
Contact light. OK, engine stopped.
We copy you down, Eagle.
Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed.
Roger, Tranquillity, we copy you on the ground.
You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We're breathing again.
Thanks a lot.
(DON WILLIS) "The Eagle has landed", the call came out.
There was just a tremendous cheer.
And it was not only the people in the room, but all those people
in the back rooms and everything,
all across the mission control centre was just a huge big cheer.
And a lot of people, I think,
exhaling, myself included, like "Ah, we've made it,
"and we're safe on the surface."
And it'll be very interesting when we go back to the moon some day to check
how much fuel was actually in that tank.
But I think it was pretty well on zero
when he touched down and he got engine shutdown.
-I'm at the foot of the ladder.
I'm going to step off the LEM now.
That's one small step for man...
..one giant leap for mankind.
I don't know that I've ever tried to calculate how many
thousands of people were focussed and working for that single event.
But I know, and I've read Mr Armstrong's book and there
wouldn't be one person that I know of at NASA that wouldn't agree with him.
That this was a team effort and probably many of them would agree
that it was one of the greatest teams ever assembled.
Neil Armstrong had become the first man to walk on the moon,
but I wonder what the other astronauts made of him being first?
So I'm paying a visit to Apollo 7 crew member Walt Cunningham.
I think Neil has the admiration
of all of us from those days, by the way he's handled the notoriety.
And there's others that haven't handled it all that well.
And I feel very fortunate,
standing at a reception in 1969, the Society of Experimental Test Pilots,
and we were making Charles Lindbergh an honorary fellow that year.
And of course, that was right after Neil's first steps on the moon.
And I was like a fly on the wall.
I was about one foot behind Neil and Charles Lindbergh when I
heard Charles Lindbergh advising Neil Armstrong on how to handle
all of this attention, this notoriety,
and about keeping a low key, kind of staying
out of the public eye because, you know,
Lindbergh's experience was not all that wonderful.
And Neil has done that.
Walt Cunningham's comment about Armstrong meeting Charles Lindbergh
has got me thinking about the similarities between the two men.
In 1927, Lindbergh made the hazardous first solo flight across
the Atlantic from New York to Paris,
but it was the consequent fame that almost destroyed him.
He was besieged by the press and public alike.
His infant first son was kidnapped for ransom and then killed,
a son who coincidentally was born the same year as Neil Armstrong.
Lindbergh wrote in his autobiography,
"As one gains fame, one loses life,"
a view which still resonates.
His solution was to become a recluse,
avoid interviews, and refuse to sign autographs.
To survive the dark side of fame,
Lindbergh devised a formula to focus on what he called
"the core" - his family, friends, the things he loved, like flying,
to shield these things from prying eyes and the ravenous media.
But I'm fascinated by the notion that Neil Armstrong's reticence,
so often taken for aloofness or reserve,
may in fact form part of a deliberate Lindbergh-inspired
strategy for dealing with the trauma of the public's intense gaze.
Unfortunately, this thrusts me right back
into the jaws of my old dilemma.
OK, I've just decided to do something that I really didn't want
to do and I've been resisting for quite a long time,
despite people telling me I should do it,
and send Neil Armstrong an e-mail.
People keep asking, "Have you asked Neil?
"Have you talked to Neil?
"You should get in touch with Neil."
And, you know, I haven't really wanted to do it because
I know he doesn't like doing it, he doesn't really do interviews,
but the Lindbergh stuff changes the way I feel about that
to some degree, because I think this is something
that's really genuinely interesting
which actually he might respond to because
flying and Charles Lindbergh are two things he feels
very strongly about,
from what I can see.
And so in doing this, I understand that I'm adding to his pile,
his mountain of unsolicited messages,
but I also think that it's...it's something that I need to do,
just because it's interesting, and I would like to have an answer
and like to give him the chance to have an answer.
Until you've sat down and tried to write an e-mail to Neil Armstrong
or someone like Neil Armstrong,
is there anyone else like Neil Armstrong,
you don't realise how sort of nervy an experience it is. It's odd.
He can't object to that.
"Dear Neil..." No. Idiot.
"Dear Mr Armstrong..."
"Dear Mr Armstrong,
"we are in the process of making a documentary film to commemorate the
"40th anniversary of the first moon landing.
"I know you're reluctant to pronounce on matters of opinion,
"but I was hoping you might be able to help
"with a few small, but important, matters of fact."
He might like that. At least that's gonna
not get off on the wrong foot
by asking him what it felt like to walk on the moon.
Sometimes I hate writing.
"We also understand that Mr Lindbergh was someone you
"greatly admired and met with in the run up to the launch of Apollo 11.
"Indeed, it has been suggested that you took advice from him.
"Is it true?"
All we can do now is wait.
I hope e-mailing him was the right thing to do.
The Kennedy Space Centre is America's gateway to space.
Today, the space shuttle stands on the launch pad where, 40 years ago,
Apollo 11 began its mission to the moon.
Not much has changed here since the space race ended,
least of all the place
astronauts stayed and played when they were preparing for flights.
When NASA first came to Cocoa Beach, there really wasn't a lot here.
One thing which did exist was the Holiday Inn
which is where the astronauts stayed while they were training
and getting ready for flights.
And happily for me, it's where I'm staying.
There it is.
MUSIC: Fly Me To The Moon by Bart Howard
During the early days of the space programme,
Mercury and Gemini astronauts are said to have had
a pretty wild time here with a combination of sun, sea and sex.
But by the time of Apollo 11,
there was too much serious work to be done.
Back in my hotel room, I turn on my laptop
and check my e-mails a little nervously.
I've come back into the room and there's a reply.
There's lots of it too.
"Dear Mr Smith, here are some replies to your questions."
And down the bottom it's signed "Neil Armstrong."
I can see the words, "I hope that is helpful. Neil Armstrong."
The first question was about Lindbergh's Autobiography Of Values.
We'd noticed the parallels and connections
between Lindbergh's experience and his.
"I became an aviation enthusiast aged nine or ten, and never wavered.
"I read every aviation book and magazine that I could
"and built airplane models constantly.
"I wanted to become an airplane designer
"and learnt about the great ones.
"Alexander Seversky, RJ Mitchell, Igor Sikorsky,
"Tony Fokker, Don Berlin, etc.
"I had no aspirations as a pilot at that time,
"but avidly learnt about the record setting flyers -
"Alcock and Brown, Mattern, Post, the Mollisons,
"Lindbergh, Earhart etc.
"I don't remember focussing on Lindbergh.
"Probably read more about all those who preceded him
"across the Atlantic by air.
"The only advice..."
OK, now this is good.
"The only advice I can remember him giving me,"
brackets, "although there may have been others,
"was to not give autographs.
"When I read Autobiography Of Values many years ago,
"I was also struck by a number of similarities to my own experiences.
"I hope that is helpful, Neil Armstrong."
He spent some time on that, thinking about it,
and...it's really sweet.
It's really sweet,
and does confirm a lot of what we were suspecting.
And now we've got to decide whether we want to follow up
with another e-mail,
or whether we want to see whether we can meet with him.
And that seems tricky now because after everything I've heard,
do we want to go and...
..disturb his privacy or not?
And maybe we do. I don't know, we'll have to think about it.
But it's exciting to get this. It's really exciting to get this.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
When Apollo 11 returned to earth, the world's press was in a frenzy
to interview the first man to walk upon the moon.
It was our pleasure to participate in one great adventure.
It's an adventure that took place not just in the month of July,
but rather one that took place in the last decade.
The entire country was lined up to see Armstrong and shake his hand,
and despite Lindbergh's advice,
he felt an obligation to the US taxpayers for their
contribution to the space programme, so he continued to sign autographs.
But unlike previous astronauts,
Armstrong was not just a hero in America.
He had become an inspirational figure for the entire world
and there was nowhere to hide,
no place he could escape a potentially all-consuming fame.
Perhaps Lindbergh's advice came to mind
because Armstrong appears to have retreated to his core self.
A neighbour would speak of Neil's desire
to get back to the fundamentals.
With the world at his feet,
he slipped back to Ohio to become a teacher.
In 1971, Armstrong became a professor
of aeronautical engineering at the University of Cincinnati.
'After the creativity of Apollo, academia must have been a shock.
'Dr Ron Huston was in the mirthful position of being Neil's boss.
'He's taking me to see the man's old office.'
This is the office I was telling you about.
And this is where he would enter and you notice there's a partition there,
so Neil would be in here
-and his secretary would be in this little alcove.
And so you'd go in there and you could see him.
Now what was interesting is when he first arrived,
it was just like this and students would
sort of build a human pyramid
-so they could get up and peek into the windows.
And that went on for a while until then they put a
sort of a curtain or a cover, just put some paper on the window so
that they couldn't see in.
And it...burned off.
It took about, I would say roughly one quarter,
which is three months, for it to subside.
And then things went on. This started in the autumn and then by the
winter time it got dreary outside,
-people got more interested in their own things, and so it passed.
Were there a lot of requests for autographs and that kind of stuff?
Oh, well, ha-ha, that's what this lady did.
If you wanted to get an autograph,
it was no big deal, because NASA wanted to take advantage of the
notoriety, and so they gave him, they paid for, part of his secretary.
And what she did was arrange for autographs.
So you would go in there and write your name on a list,
so every morning, Neil would come in for an hour or two
and just write his name on these autographs.
And how long did that last for?
Oh, that went on for the entire time that he was here.
I mean that went on for years.
Did you hear him complain about that? That would drive me insane.
I think he just did what he...
He was disciplined, he was disciplined,
so he did what people told him to do.
He'd just come in here, sign the autographs,
then he'd be teaching his classes, then he would go fly airplanes.
In 1979, Neil Armstrong abruptly resigned his position
at the University of Cincinnati.
In the years that followed,
he worked in a number of advisory posts for engineering firms.
Having committed himself to signing autographs through the 70s and 80s,
the advent of the internet alerted Armstrong
to the fact that people had been selling them straight away.
This drove him to take Lindbergh's advice
and he hasn't signed an autograph since.
But the lengths to which people would go to exploit Armstrong's fame
reached a peak of absurdity in 2005,
when his barber, one Marx Sizemore,
sold cuttings of his hair to a hair collector.
A guy from Colorado named Todd Mueller,
back in '04 started calling me on the phone
and asking me if he could buy some of Neil's hair.
For two weeks I told him no.
And then he asked me a question like,
"If you don't sell me the hair, next time he comes in
"and gets his hair cut, what are you going to do with it?"
And I said, "Probably sweep it up and throw it away just like I always do."
And he said, "All right, sell me your trash."
So when I thought about it that way, I thought,
"You know, it's not that big of a deal."
So I let him, I entertained an offer from him. He offered me 3,000
and so next time Neil came in, I swept up before he got here
and once he left,
I swept it up again and bagged it up and sent it to him.
So Neil's reaction was?
He wasn't too happy about it.
He asked me if I thought I could get the hair back, and I told him that
I would call and see, but I called Tom
-and of course he didn't want to sell the hair back, so...
I called Neil at his house and told him that.
He gave you his home number?
-Yeah, he gave me his home number.
-So he trusted you with that?
That would be worth quite a lot of money to some people.
Well, how much will you give me? HE LAUGHS
Well, we can talk about that afterwards.
He threatened legal action,
so I released it to the media and it became a huge story.
It went worldwide.
I think once he'd seen how big of a
news article it was becoming, he backed off.
His lawyers didn't want no more to do with it.
So Marx, this was all about 4 years ago.
Have there been any further developments since?
Well, the guy I sold the hair to,
he's thinking about coming out with something for the 40th anniversary,
-so he says we have enough hair to do 250,000 items.
-Oh, my God.
I mean, if anything, if we just tape a piece of the hair to a postcard,
and mail it out,
you know, I mean even if we get 50 bucks a piece, that's 12.5 million.
So, I mean, it could be quite a big...
So you could actually become a millionaire out of this hair?
I could, possibly, yeah.
So ask me again if I would do it again.
'With money-making schemes like this around, it must be impossible
'for Armstrong to know if he can trust anyone, including me.'
A big improvement, thank you.
The more I learn about Armstrong's life,
the better I understand why he avoids contact with the public.
But I have an idea, a way of offering rather than demanding.
Armstrong will undoubtedly refuse an interview
but perhaps he'll come out to play.
His love of flying stems from the day in 1936
when his dad took him for a ride in a visiting plane.
To better understand the effect of this experience,
I am going up in an original 1940s Boeing-Stearman biplane.
And so, just in case,
I'm writing Armstrong a final time to invite him to join us.
You never know.
Waiting for a response,
I kill some time in Wapakoneta's Neil Armstrong Museum.
It's a wonderful collection of items
from the different periods of Neil's life.
There is everything from his bicycle to his first plane,
his flight jacket from the Korean war, his Edwards test pilot boots,
his Gemini space suit, the Gemini 8 capsule,
his Apollo space suit, and even a moon rock.
But the best thing for a big kid like me is the Lunar Simulator
where you can have a go yourself at landing on the moon.
This is where I get to be an astronaut or not be an astronaut.
I'm getting it, I'm getting it now...
No, I'm not. Come on, come on!
I'm getting this one. This is going to be the one.
Here we go, here we go, here we go.
SIMULATOR: OK, we're climbing.
Just hold the throttle back, drifting backward.
20 feet down. Contact.
Oh, you utter... Oh, I had it that time!
Oh, that's so unfair.
I was coming down perfectly!
"Don't call us, we'll call you."
Back at my hotel room, I have mail.
I've got another reply from Neil.
"Dear Mr Smith, it is impossible for me to remember what thoughts
"went through my head 70 years ago.
"I guess it was a combination of reading about airplanes and building
"and flying model airplanes that was the chief motivating factor.
"In reading, I learnt of the history and exciting developments
"of aviation, and in flying model airplanes,
"I learned of the logic of what contributed to performance,
"stability and control of aircraft.
"Both invigorated my interest in design.
"Thank you for your invitation
"to join you at the Stearman flying event.
"I am already committed on both days but I'm confident that you will get
"a new appreciation for a breeze in the face
"and the sound of the wind in the rigging.
"Best of luck, NA."
No surprise there then,
but I'm not going to waste my chance to punch a hole in the sky.
I'm disappointed Neil won't be coming.
I'd like to have seen his engineers' eyes light up
at the sight of this stunning machine.
But my disappointment vanishes in the Stearman's open cockpit
as I feel the rush of air across my face just as he did.
Hey, we're up! Ha-ha!
This is fantastic!
It would have been wonderful for Neil to have come,
as I know he'd have loved the plane and enjoyed the ride.
Up here, it's so easy to see
how a six year old boy's love affair with flying might have begun.
Brilliant, absolutely brilliant.
You feel free in the air, and it's great fun.
But I'm still not sure what he meant about the wind in the rigging.
When we come in to land, the really nicest part of the flight,
I'll pull the engine back to idle
and you'll just hear the wind whistling through the wires.
It's just really peaceful.
Do you know what? Neil Armstrong mentioned that.
He said I'd enjoy that.
Yeah, you will.
ENGINE QUIETENS, WIRES WHINE
Richard's just cut back the engine and the wires are singing.
Oh, what a peaceful vision.
I finally think I understand the
mystery of Neil Armstrong's retreat from the public.
In a sense, it's you and me he's retreating from -
our childlike wish that we could have been with him,
that he can tell us what it was like.
And he's right in his modest belief that the Apollo fame should be
shared among the thousands of people responsible for its success.
As Lindbergh himself wrote,
"My landing was like a match lighting a bonfire.
"People began to confuse the light of the bonfire
"with the flame of the match."
In the end, Neil Armstrong's greatest gift to us
could be his silence.
INDISTINCT RECORDINGS FROM MOON LANDING
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
It has been said that 10,000 years from now only one name will still be remembered, that of Neil Armstrong. But in the four decades since he first set foot on the moon, Armstrong has become increasingly reclusive.
Andrew Smith, author of the best-selling book Moondust, journeys across America to try and discover the real Neil Armstrong. He tracks down the people who knew Armstrong, from his closest childhood friend to fellow astronauts and Houston technicians, and even the barber who sold his hair, in a wry and sideways look at the reluctant hero of the greatest event of the 20th century.